As the sun sets Tuesday (May 15), Muslims will begin observing the fasting month of Ramadan, the holiest on the Islamic calendar. They abstain from food and water from dawn to dusk, pray, and recite the Quran.
But, there is also a fun, festive side of the observance. That's the social gatherings for family and friends when they break their fast each evening, known as "Iftar." There are also special treats for kids who haven't yet reached the age when they are required to fast. And many Muslim families put up Ramadan decorations.
Though it's not a religious requirement, decorating the house for Ramadan is a lovely, must-do tradition for Inas El Ayouby, who lives in Vienna, Virginia, with her family.
"It gives my house such a nice, warm feeling and it makes it an extra special time," she explains. "And it's amazing how the decorations have the ability to create such a great delightful atmosphere and joyful mood throughout the month."
Decorations, she adds, are especially important for children, teaching them about the month and making them love and anticipate it every year.
To El Ayouby, who loves decorating her house for various occasions, from birthdays and Thanksgiving to Easter and the Fourth of July, says decorations are part of any celebration. Growing up in Egypt, El Ayouby recalls how her mother used to be creative, designing and making Ramadan decorations herself, as they were not sold in stores.
That's what she did when her two kids were young, growing in America, when Ramadan was not a well-known event to non-Muslims.
"I used to get most of my Ramadan decorations from Egypt where it's become a huge business and lucrative market. I also used to go to nearby craft stores. I also used to go on line and get beautiful post cards with different scenes of Ramadan, really beautiful. I print them out and put them in colorful frames, like red, blue and yellow to add to the decorations."
Party City makes it easier
This year, when the U.S. retail chain Party City introduced its Ramadan decorations line, El Ayouby was excited.
"Everybody just went crazy. I can see all my friends on Facebook saying, go to Party City, go buy Ramadan stuff, you're going to find lovely things."
"I was able to get the hanging decorations, the balloons, the napkins and plates, which is great because in the past, I used to get solid red-color paper plates and use colorful napkins to go with it to add some coloring. Now, we have the whole theme from Party City. That's really great."
Ryan Vero, Party City's president of retail, says the company created its Ramadan line based on requests from customers. "We always look to support our customers in all of their party needs, for every type of celebration or event," he says. "We listened to our customers and recognized an opportunity to fill this underserved category of party good items."
And, he notes, it's a lucrative market, with about five million Muslims living in North America, according to a 2014 study by the American Muslim Consumer Consortium.
The new line includes tableware, banners, decals, gift bags and balloons in purple, blue, green and gold, embellished with mosques, stars and crescent drawings. Beside Ramadan decorations, the company also offers similar items commemorating Eid, the end of month celebration.
"At this time, our decorations are predominantly sold out, both online, and in our stores," Vero says. "We were extremely pleased with the response and are working to get them back in stores."
Ramadan decorations in the classroom
El Ayouby also bought Ramadan decorations for her grandson, Jad, who is in second grade.
"Over the past few years, his mother has been doing in-class Ramadan presentations. She takes the decorations like the balloons, the plates and stuff in addition to food, juice and paper activity to his classroom. She takes a basket full of dates, and she tells all about Ramadan."
With major public attention paid to the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays, she says this recognition gives Muslim children a sense of inclusion.
"With the decorations and other stuff, they feel they are integral part of the community and that their religious occasions are explained and celebrated."